Rapid Reviews: A Couple From Oink Games!

“A group of poor explorers hoping to get rich quickly heads out to recover treasures from some undersea ruins. They’re all rivals, but their budgets force them all to share a single rented submarine. In the rented submarine, they all have to share a single tank of air, as well. If they don’t get back to the sub before they run out of air, they’ll drop all their treasure. Now it’s time to see who can bring home the greatest riches.” (From the BGG Store)

“Thief who crept to roost of monster-troll accumulated a huge gem. At that time it is finally trying to Hakobidaso jewelry, monster of signs is …. It is very Once found in the flesh-eating troll! Thieves is not that he found, and Candidate attempts as much as possible a lot of jewelry, it was the start each other tactics …” (From Oink Games TROLL via Google Translate).

A group of poor explorers. Unlimited riches. Untold Danger. Oink Game’s “Deep Sea Adventure” and “Troll” both play with these themes. They are quick to learn and play, have minimal components and look gorgeous on a shelf…but, despite the packaging, are they any good? Are these filler games worth picking up and tossing into your collection?

The Game:

Designer: Jun Sasaki
Publisher: Oink Games
Ages: 8+
Players: 3-6
Time: 20-30 minutes
Mechanics: Press Your Luck, Roll and Move

In Deep Sea Adventure, everyone begins in the submarine. A particularly nice piece of this design is the inclusion of the game timer (the air supply) on the submarine. The players share a full tank of air at 25 units and count down as the divers exert themselves salvaging the treasure lurking below. Trailing below the submarine is a series of tokens representing treasure of increasing worth as you move further from the sub. One a turn, each player rolls two dice (with pips varying from 1-3 on each dice equalling a total range of movement equalling 2-6 spaces (depending upon encumbrance). If you land on a ruin token, you can chose to pick it up and place it facedown in front of you. If the space’s chip was already picked up, you can choose to put down a chip on that spot. Then you decide whether you are heading back to the submarine or going deeper down.

This is the crux of your decision space in this simple game. Go deeper and pick up a ruin chip that is worth more or head back up and bank what you have in the safety of the submarine. The ruins tokens are worth more the farther you move away from the submarine but the deeper you go, the less likely you will make it back. This seems simple: Dive. Grab Points. Get back to the sub. However, the trick is finding the right time to turn back towards the sub. As people pick up more chips, they use up more air and time can start to move really quick. Now you are loaded with treasure and everyone else is as well. You are sluggish after some unfortunate and air is being sucked down faster than you can count.

And to make things worse, Vasily has been dragging two tokens slowly back to the sub and suddenly dropped one and sped right into safety and banked a bunch!

So the air runs out and you are still floating in the deep. Well, the automatic hitch activates and pulls you back up but you need to drop all the treasure in your possession. You score no points and those tokens are stacked in units of three and put at the bottom of the line. These stacks of three treasure tokens count as one token when it comes to movement. So a sack of three will only slow you down one pip on your roll rather than three. Anyone who made it to the sub with their treasure gets to flip them over and score.

If you failed to make it back to the sub, your colleagues will rescue you minus your treasure, throw you in a decompression chamber to get you into shape for the next dive. If you succeeded in returning to the sub you get to keep your ruin chips and flip them over as treasure. They will not count against your air in the next round.

The main mechanism of Deep Sea Adventure is roll and move. And it works just fine. Yes, you can be stymied by a series of poor rolls but the game is quick enough that you really aren’t dedicating that much time and most games will play shorter than the 30 minutes on the box. The press your luck mechanism of the game is drop dead simple — more you carry, the more oxygen you use up, and the quicker you run out of air to breathe. Thus, you are constantly looking to see how much other people are carrying and calculating how much you can afford to move in order to win.

Oink Games has an amazing line of cute, accessible filler games in the most adorable tiny little boxes I have ever seen (TROLL, In A Grove, Rights, etc). The art work and the components are always minimalistic. Not much on the artwork, the graphic design is crisp and clear. The gameplay simple enough to teach to anyone new to games. The game and the box it came in are beyond endearing. They are cute and engaging enough for its size. Will it satisfy every gamer’s appetite? No. But it provides more than enough tension to make it worthwhile as a filler. It really shines as a family or kid’s game though. And you can’t beat the simplicity of roll, move, and pick up treasure. Do I want to add a giant squid circling the ruins? You bet I do. Will I? Probably.
deep sea adventure

The Game:

Designer: Kouji Kimura
Publisher: Oink Games
Ages: 8+
Players: 3-6
Time: 20-30 minutes
Mechanics: Press Your Luck, Bluffing

In TROLL, you one of 3-5 crafty thieves in a lair of hungry trolls. These trolls have precious jewels and you only have a few days and your wits to escape with as many jewels as possible.

Each thief has a set of six tokens numbered 0-5 representing the number of jewels stolen from the Troll. Each troll in the troll deck has a number (3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15). During the round, each thief will play one of their tokens. The first player (the scout) can look at the troll card to see the value and then plays a token. Then each thief, in order can either play it safe and look at the card and play a token face-up or be daring and place a token face down. When taking a daring action, the thief gets to place a x2 multiplier on the token to represent getting twice the amount of jewels if successful at their gamble.

Once everyone has placed their tokens, the troll card is flipped over and the player’s tokens are arranged from smallest to largest. The tokens are then added up according to the amount of jewels they planned to steal. If your tokens totals less than the revealed troll’s number, you gain the points on your token (with additional multiplier if appropriate). Then the person whose token totaled or exceeded the troll’s number gets captured and gets a -2 penalty. Any one after the woken troll escape getting mauled but they don’t score any points. After two or three rounds (dependant upon the number of players), the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

Troll gets the same high points for design, minimalist presentation and the cute box. However, the bluffing in this game is not particularly compelling. It feels more like quick arithmetic and guesswork than actual bluffing. And when you have something like Skull that does it better and even simpler, there isn’t much reason to bring this one out too often.

deep sea adventure (1)

Helios: A Shining Example of Not Standing Out

All praise Ahau, the Sun God! In Helios, you are a guardian of the faith, a spiritual guide for the teeming masses of your village. You will expand your civilization and bring it to new heights by gathering resources, erecting buildings, and recruiting the local talent through your mighty influence. Your goal is to see your civilization progress further than the rest of those inferior villages. In the end, though, we are all followers of the Sun Lord and as such we can alter the movement of the sun to ensure certain effects and bonuses are bestowed upon us, the faithful. There are multiple ways to please Ahau and players have many paths to victory (Praise the Almighty Light Bearer Ahau! OUR GOD IS A SMILING GOD). After 4 rounds of play, the guardian that has furthered their civilization through constructing buildings, recruiting personages, collecting energy or mana, and adding various awarded bonuses awarded from the sun all can result in the gain of victory points at the end of the game.

The Game:

Designers – Matthias Prinz and Martin Kallenborn
Publisher – Z-Man Games
Number of Players – 2-4
Ages – 10+
Playing Time – 60-90 minutes
Mechanics – Territory Building, Action Point Allowance, Sun Worshiping, Tan Lines

Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)
Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)

The Rules:

The set-up of the game is a bit intense. The central area is accessible to all the players and is made up of Action Tiles, Character Tiles, Earth Tokens, and Bonus Tokens. Three different sets of Action tiles are placed on the table and then six from each set is placed face up below the stack. Eight Character tiles are placed with the night side of the tile showing.  Five different Earth tokens are placed on the board with the resulting resource placed on top with a sixth stack of unused tokens. Lastly, the bonus tokens are placed somewhere … anywhere really. Then each player gets two personal boards: a City board and a Village Board. On the Village Board players will manage their lands (tokens) and regulate the movement of the sun. On the City Board, players will track the buildings they construct through the game. Fine, the set-up wasn’t that bad but if you aren’t operating on the assumption that you have several games under your belt (or hat) it can be a bit off-putting to the uninitiated. The actual flow of the game is fairly straightforward but damned if it doesn’t like it from the set-up.

Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)
Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)

The game operates in three phases — The Action Phase, The Character Phase, and the Restocking Phase.

During the Action Phase, players can perform four actions. The three actions players can choose from are create land, erect a building on your City Board or a temple on your Village Board, and move the sun. At the beginning of each round, these three actions are represented by three different stacks of tiles with six exposed tiles under each stack. When a player wants to take an action, they choose the lowest exposed action tile. Additionally, each action tile is one of four different colors: Red, Blue, Yellow, and Grey. After the action is taken the tiles are placed under the appropriate color on the player’s Village Board. The Grey Action Tiles are wild and can be placed under either the Red, Blue, or Yellow area. After you’ve taken your regular actions and placed the used tiles here, if there are four tiles of the same color, players immediately take an extra action. The extra actions are the same as your standard actions.

  1. Create Land – Players choose from you may choose from any of the available land or bonus tiles. The hexagonal tile is placed on the Village Board adjacent to a previously placed tile. Land tiles come with one resource cube and bonus tiles provide points at the end of the game. If you build on a bonus spot on your board you gain the displayed bonus (mana or resources).
  2. Build Building – Players can either build a temple on the their Village Board to a the cost of one resource for their first temple, two for their second, three for their third and so on. The temple then awards the player with mana equal to the number of temples on the board and scores additional points when the sun shines on it. On the City Board, the buildings cost varying amounts or resources. If you can pay this cost, then you place a white building piece on the appropriate spot to denote your ownership and the abilities and bonuses from the specific building.
  3. Move the sun – Moving the sun serves to activate the tiles on your Village Board. Players start with the sun’s moving a maximum of 2 spaces but that can be increased throughout the game. When the sun moves it moves at least one space and always moves clockwise (as they do!) around the tiles placed on the board. Whichever tiles are adjacent to the sun when it stops, get activated. However, the sun may not end on the same space it started at and it can’t end at a dead end. Additionally, when the sun makes a full revolution around the board, the player scores victory points.
Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)
Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)

During the Character phase. Eight character tiles are set up in a supply at the beginning of the game. The characters have a night side and a day side and all are initially flipped to their inactive night side. During the Character Phase, the player with the most mana gets to either hire one character and/or activate one character. When a player hires a character they pay the hiring cost of the character in mana. This allows the player to place the hired character next to their player board. To activate a character, players pay the activation cost in resources at the bottom of the tile and flip it over to the day side. Players instantly gain a mana and sun movement bonus and the card is then retained until the end of the game for additional VP’s at the end of the game if various conditions are met.

Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)
Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)

During the Restocking Phase

  • Restock the Earth Tiles so that one tile of each kind is available for the next round.
  • Reveal new Action Tiles so that there are six for each of the three rows.
  • Starting player moves to the left.

After four rounds of play, the game ends and player count up some additional VPs:

  • Each Corner space with adjacent Earth or Bonus token = 4 VPs
  • Each Bonus token is worth VPs depending on how it is arranged.
  • Each building on a player’s City board is worth the printed amount of VPs.
  • Each activated character is worth VPs
  • Each remaining Mana is worth 1 VP

And player with the most resulting VPs is the winner. YAY!

Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)
Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)

The Review:

Helios, for me, has a very much Agricola feel to it but without the mind numbing stress that accompanies nearing a feeding round. The game is smoothly designed with a wealth of options during your turn. Players have plenty of routes to victory with multiple mechanisms to watch and maintain. whenever so many mechanics are interacting with each other and game flow is maintained, I feel that the game was well designed and fleshed out. However, while this adds to the overall quality of the game, it makes the first couple of plays a real bear as new players struggle with the mechanics and then really want to get to the meat of the game — how to win. Do you stay small on your board or do you expand out. Characters? If so which and when. Buildings? Maybe…I’m not sure. But I do know if you go too far down the wrong path with the wrong character, you will be devoid of the points to win. In this way, the game is somewhat unforgiving.

The action selection aspect of Helios was very appealing. It provides some good constraint and an added element of player interaction and the collection of colored tiles to gain bonus actions amps up my enjoyment of the game. These activities temper your choices and gently nudge players to take less optimal moves in order to gain an extra action. and while this was great, I kinda wish there was a bit more here. Maybe having players gain some sort of proficiency by collecting the sets of colored tiles with some added abilities … perhaps abilities that would create more player interaction in the game.

One huge complaint about Helios (and, to be fair, many games) is that the set up time can be a bit prohibitive. And the fact that the setup is exactly (except for the order of the Action Tiles) the exact same thing every time. Despite the fact that the components and design is appealing and looks great sprawled over a table, it still doesn’t have much variability in the game. In 2 or 5 games will it basically be solved with everyone running towards the same strategy? If so, it probably will not get much play. And while that element of familiarity is wonderful in a gateway game, Helios has too many moving parts and takes too long to set up for me to introduce it to new players over other, simpler games. With so many mechanisms, players need to manage resources very carefully while attempting to plan out 2-3 moves ahead of themselves while also being ready to switch it all up when someone grabs the one Action Tile or character/building they were banking on. Basically, Helios is a well-crafted game with some strategic depth but one hell of a tactical shove to it.

Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)
Image Credit: Daniel Danzer (duchamp on BGG)

The Rub:

Helios feels as if it attempted to do many things and want to do all of them equally well. And in this sense it succeeded but without really excelling at any one thing. The tile placement aspect is fine but not particularly great. The characters are helpful but without being particularly memorable. The action allowance is probably my favorite part but still didn’t outshine much of anything else in the game. The scoring options are diverse and but still constrained. Helios is a well designed (and well executed) game that combines plenty of mechanisms to provide rich game-play but without any single element prominent enough to scratch an itch with the game.

Please share: 4 days left to get Swamped!


4 days left to get Swamped! 2-4 players, 20-30 minutes, semi-cooperative play with a unique programmed movement mechanic! All this in 35 cards and 2 bits! $12 plus shipping gets the game to your door this December.

That means for about the cost of a movie and a medium movie soda, you can enjoy a highly repayable game with 2-3 of your friends. Or use the solo variant!

The Swamp Tiger expansion is up and we need to get our total to $17,000! That’s entirely doable and I for one would love to see this happen. It’s a great expansion that adds lots of neat, new options to the game.


If you’re already a backer you have our thanks! Please consider sharing this to get the word out! We’d love to hit a few more stretch goals and that means more backers needed!

Bellwether Games also has their two previous titles (I own both, they rock) Drop Site and Antidote available as add-ons for the Kickstarter campaign.


Quick Review: Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet!


lift off

Early this week I received a copy of Eduardo Baraf’s Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet! I was excited to see this arrive at my door as I’d been following the campaign eagerly and it looked like a fun game. My 9 year old and I almost immediately tore into the box, set it up and had a go at it. Then we had a second go at it. The premise is simple – your planet is about to explode and you’ve got to get all (or at least the most) of your people off of it ASAP! Shortest of all short reviews? We liked it! Fun game, plays quickly, a bit of strategy and lots of replayability. If you like a little more meat on your reviews, read on.

Game Play

Lift Off is a fairly simple game. The board is set up so that the core of the planet sits in the center. Around this are placed 4 Exit Points and 4 Lift Off Points. The board is modular and actually sits on top of a larger game board to facilitate a few other aspects of play. In the planet’s core you place your 10 ‘alieneeples’ along with the Garglore meeple in the lava pit at the center. The Moon token goes on the top of the board, with the Sun token going on to the Sun area on the number of players in the game.


Each player is then dealt 2 cards and the game begins! The object is to get your Alieneeples first to the surface of the planet, and then to a Lift Off Point and finally into space (and off of the board). There are two basic resources in the game to facilitate this: Screws and Fuel, with 64 cards representing them. Each Lift Off point will require a certain type of resource to place your Alieneeple on it and ready to go. Such as 1 Screw and 1 Fuel. Lift Off Points can then be triggered by various game states. For instance, the Bonfire Lift Off Point is triggered by someone playing 1 Fuel to it. At that point the Lift Off die is rolled and depending on the moon phase, you’ll need to roll at least 1, 2 or 3 spaceships on the die. If you succeed, than any alieneeple on that Lift Off Point which has paid it’s 1 screw gets off the planet. Other Lift Off points have other conditions.

On your turn, you draw 2 cards and then perform any of these actions, in any order. Move twice (either 1 alieneeple 2 spaces, or 2 alieneeples 1 space), play card(s), Pay Lift Off costs or discard 2 cards to draw 1 new card. Other cards that you can play can give you extra move points, change the moon phase of that turn and otherwise affect the game state. There’s also the Garglore, that black death’s head meeple at the center. If you play a Move the Garglore card, you can place the Garglore on any Lift Off point or back into the lava pool. If he’s on a Lift Off point, no alieneeples can leave the planet from that point.

There are 10 Lift Off points provided in the box, with only four being used for any game, which gives this game a good amount of variety between games. Each of these points is affected differently depending on what phase the Moon is in as the Moon token tracks around the board. At the end of every player’s turn the Moon is moved one space counter-clockwise, with the space it occupies being the full moon. The Moon space directly opposite it is the New moon and every other space is a half moon. Once it reaches star on the moon track again, a day has passed and the Sun is moved further down the Sun Track towards planetary destruction. Some Lift Off Points are easier to use during a new moon, others during a half or full moon.

The winner is whomever gets all of their alieneeples off the planet first, or the person with the most off once the whole thing blows up in our faces.



The game is actually slightly simpler than I had conceived when originally following this project. That’s not a bad thing though. Once we got the hang of it, we could play a 2 player game in 35 minutes. There’s a bit of luck with the card draws but this can be mitigated a bit with the ability to discard two cards to draw a new card.  Other than that there’s some solid strategy and decision making to be had in the game. The light-hearted take on planetary destruction is a fun theme to play in and I really like that one of the Lift Off Points is a giant freaking slingshot.

There is a bit of a take-that element with the Garglore and one of our games clearly boiled down to who had the last Garglore card (hint: it wasn’t me) but that didn’t take away from the fun of the game.  My 9 year old has already asked to play again and I know this one will be hitting our table both in the near future and during our Extra Life event. I feel it’s also a pretty accessible title for those not into the hobby board game scene.  If you enjoy light-hearted, fast playing games where you move lots of little wooden aliens around in a frantic race to escape an exploding planet, you’ll really dig Lift Off.

You can find the rules here on BGG and I understand the game will be going into distribution soon!


Swamped on Kickstarter could use a social media boost

swamped backer

The Kickstarter for my game Swamped is doing well. It’s already funded and we’re at 113% or so as of this writing. We’d really, really like to get it up to the 150-200% level though so we can knock some of these awesome stretch goals out.

If you’re not a backer, please consider backing! At $14 shipped to the US it’s a fairly easy investment. Another amazingly great way to help out though would be to mention the Kickstarter via Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram – any of your normal social media outlets! We’re using the hashtag #Swamped and would very much appreciate a mention!

Also, here’s the latest graphic featuring everything that will ship with the base game.

whats in the box

A new “How to play” video and some new artwork revealed for Swamped

swamped chief

Bellwether Games recently uploaded a new how-to-play video for my game Swamped! It’s more concise and a bit shorter than the original game play video.


In addition to the new video, there’s some new artwork! Above is the Local Chef, one of the characters available in the base game. Here’s some more artwork for a few of the treasure cards and some of the direction cards!

swamped kingsfoil swamped north

If you’re liking what you see, please consider backing the game on Kickstarter! It’s $12+2 shipping to the US, which is very competitively priced! Bellwether Games has some amazing stretch goals planned as well and we’d really like to see them get unlocked!

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